First Impressions: A Newcomer’s Take on RSA Conference

Other than my recent launch into the cybersecurity industry, my first clue that I was a newcomer to RSA Conference was my overzealous and somewhat unshared excitement that Tina Fey was a keynote speaker. When I shared said excitement with an RSA veteran, I was met with a shocked, “wait, Tina Fey is here?!”

If they were even aware that the comedienne was speaking, many were annoyed at RSA’s apparent attempt to bait attendees into staying for the duration of the event with a high-profile celebrity:

However, despite the apparent lack of correlation between stand-up and cybersecurity, Fey was able to bridge the gap by focusing on the interpersonal aspects of the industries. According to a write up in Dark Reading, Fey explained that improvisation is about agreement, about building upon one another’s ideas, about collaboration. In both cybersecurity and comedy (and probably all industries, really) agreeability and cooperation are key to a successful work environment.

During my brief time at RSA, I was able to attend the Sandbox competition, which felt like it was specifically catered for newcomers like me. The goal for the 10 competitors was to pitch their company to a panel of judges, to stun them with their unique solutions and innovations. The presenters who pitched their product with personality, humility, and even a touch of humor, were the ones that stood out to me, as they were most like the people I’d want to work with. While I may not remember exactly what their products represent, I do remember the company as one with people I’d like to interact with.

The same logic applied while I attended back-to-back pitch meetings with my co-workers. The companies who were able to connect with us on a personal level, be transparent, and clearly translate their ideas were the ones that resonated with me. When I walked away from a presentation, able to grasp the basic concept of the product and a sense of the person’s personality and drive, they were more likely to leave a lasting impression, emphasizing the importance of human interactions.

Although I enjoyed the Sandbox competition, I was very aware of the overall lack of diversity in the presenters, the companies’ core teams, and even the judge’s panel. While host Hugh Thompson did kick off the event with a brief interview with Niloofar Howe, she was the only female onstage during that four-hour event. It’s no secret that women are an unrepresented demographic in cybersecurity, making up only 20 percent of the industry. While that number is up from 2013’s 11 percent, there are still a ways to go.

For the first time, I didn’t wait in any lines for the women’s bathrooms, which, despite being very nice, was also a huge culture shock. I did not attend enough sessions to know that women made up 32 percent of overall speakers, but nonetheless, the conference should strive for gender parity for RSA 2020.

Not to bring up Tina Fey again, but in her keynote, she said that when staffing, “you want the most diverse room you can have,” filling it up with people with varying points of view. Diversity is good for business, allowing for discourse, alternate opinions and business practices, and fresh ideas from those in leadership positions. You can’t solve one of the world’s most pressing problems just with people who think the same.

RSA is truly what you make of it. You can pack the days with back-to-back meetings, sit in on panels, make the most out of the after hours parties, or spend hours meandering around the showroom floor, quickly acquiring endless swag.

In an industry where the only constant is change, there are lots of exciting things to look forward to. The fact that the number of female CISOs are expected to jump up to 20 percent this year and that there were more participants and innovative companies at RSA than ever indicate that we’re getting closer to a more secure future.